Sooner or later, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán is bound to escape from prison again. In 2001, he did so by hiding in a laundry basket. Last year, after only 16 months of being locked-up, he escaped through a mile long tunnel dug under Mexico´s highest security prison. Guzmán is now back to the same jail he escaped from this past July 12th, El Altiplano, and there is no reason to believe that he won´t be able to bribe, dig or threaten his way to freedom again. The extradition proceedings to the United States will take at least two or three years, more than enough time for Guzmán to design a successful escape route. But in the end it doesn´t really matter whether El Chapo stays in jail or not. Indeed, his business of drugs and death will likely flow more smoothly now that the boss of the Sinaloa Cartel doesn´t have to be in constant movement between mountainous hideouts. He now has time to sit comfortably in his jail cell and coordinate the actions of his top generals, including Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada and his two heirs, Archibaldo and Alfredo.
In a system as rife with corruption and impunity as Mexico´s, individuals matter very little. Even in the unlikely event of a quick extradiction of Guzmán, Sinaloa Cartel stock will continue to price high for many years to come. High demand for drugs and increased border control in the United States, combined with profound economic crisis in Mexico, guarantee high demand for the trafficking, financial and employment services rendered by this powerful multinational network.
Mexico´s Federal Government, led by Enrique Peña Nieto, has taken an erratic approach to El Chapo, to say the least. Guzman´s formidable assets remain intact, almost untouched by the Mexican authorities. Not a single high-level member of the security establishment has been prosecuted for last summer´s spectacular prison break. And the six month man-hunt since then has been full of contradictions.
For instance, Peña Nieto´s Attorney General, Arely Gómez, has bragged that government intelligence allowed her to be "practically there" during the October 2nd interview between Guzmán, Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo. The Mexican press even has published photographs supposedly taken by government operatives during the arrival in Mexico of the two Hollywood stars. But for some reason, the government just sat by and watched. According to Gómez "the conditions at the time" simply "did not allow for" Mexican law enforcement to act.
Two weeks later, on October 16th, the government did conduct a raid on a ranch where El Chapo was hiding out in the state of Sinaloa. The authorities successfully cornered the drug lord, but then mysteriously let him go. The excuse was that they were forced to give up the pursuit in order to avoid putting at risk the women and children who accompanied Guzmán as he fled.
During the raid this past January 8th, El Chapo was allowed to escape once again. Using his trademark tunnel strategy, Guzmán slipped down a hole hidden between two mirrors in a closet and ran through the drainage pipes of the city of Los Mochis. The marines who had attacked his outpost took a full 27 minutes to discover the hole and initiate the pursuit, according to Reforma newspaper (1-12-2106). According to Attorney General Gómez, the government had previous knowledge that Guzman´s safehouses in Los Mochis were connected through underground passages. But for some reason the Mexican marines simply neglected to close off the escape route before their raid.
The final detention of Guzmán last Friday took place by accident. According to the official account, the Federal Police stopped a car outside of Los Mochis which had been reported stolen and, to their surprise, encountered Guzmán sitting in the vehicle along with his bodyguard. Then, breaking with protocol, instead of handcuffing and bringing Guzmán and his partner immediately to a police station or military barracks, they were escorted to a nearby motel to await further instructions.
Sean Penn´s important Rolling Stone article offers key clues to deciphering this strange succession of events. At one point during his expedition Penn is informed by his escort, El Chapo's son Alfredo, that the drug cartel has "an inside man who provides notification when the military´s high-altitude surveillance plane has been deployed". And when the two reach a military checkpoint in the heart of the mountainous "Golden Triangle" controlled by the cartel in the states of Durango, Chihuahua and Sinaloa, Penn notes that upon seeing Alfredo "the soldiers immediately back way, looking embarrassed, and wave us through".
But the problem goes far beyond a few corrupt soldiers and high-level informants. During his interview with Penn, El Chapo declared his interest in investing in the oil business and "cites a host of corrupt major corporations, both within Mexico and abroad...through which his money has been laundered, and who take their own cynical slice of the narco pie". In other words, the Sinaloa Cartel is not on the margins of the formal economy but plays a central role within and is directly supported by "major corporations", both in Mexico and the United States.
We already know the names of some of these corporations. In 2012, HSBC confessed to laundering hundreds of millions of dollars for the Sinaloa Cartel. Previously, Wachovia bank had been found to have committed a similar offense. Both banks were fined, but not a single executive or employee of the banks has been criminally prosecuted. Obama´s top cop for the HSBC case, Lanny Breuer, argued that prosecution was not warranted because it would have "destabilized" the banking system. These cases are evidently only the top of the iceberg of an international money-laundering network which processes tens of billions of bloody Mexican narco-dollars a year.
Meanwhile, in Mexico the Peña Nieto administration continues to obstruct the independent investigation conducted by the Organization of the American States on the forced disappearance in 2014 of 43 activist students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. And not a single top military or federal police officer has been brought to justice for the series of massacres recently committed by agents of the Mexican state in the cities of Tlatlaya, Apatzingán, Tanhuato, and Ostula, among others. But the Obama administration continues to play deaf and pat Mexico´s increasingly unpopular and authoritarian Peña Nieto on the back, a stance reminiscent of the one the US President applies to other leaders of oil rich countries, like King Salman of Saudi Arabia.
The key problem in Mexico is not Guzmán, but a system of structural impunity actively supported by the US government and international corporations. Independently of what one thinks about the ethics of Hollywood stars interviewing drug bosses, it pales in comparison to the bloody complicity of the powers that be in the US with the business of death and destruction south of the border.